The value of a Nigerian’s life
By Simon Kolawole
In 1996, my cousin, born and raised in Kaduna, came visiting us in Lagos. In fact, she came to start her tertiary education. We were driving one Sunday evening when she saw a dead body on the expressway near Charly Boy bus stop. The body had apparently been mutilated by a number of speeding vehicles. Sherifat screamed, held my arm tightly and burst into tears. She was in utter shock. Initially, I was surprised at her reaction. After all, dead bodies on Lagos roads were a regular sight in those days. I myself did not like seeing them but my reaction was different from hers. It was clear that it was a strange sight to her. But after seeing more bodies on the roads over a number of months, she adapted, so to say.
You hardly see dead bodies on Lagos roads again — quick removal of corpses was one of the major steps Governor Bola Tinubu took when he came to office in 1999 — but anytime I remember this incident, a thousand questions still race through my mind. Who was that guy? Did the family ever get to know what happened to him? I was not sure if it was a man or a woman. I just assumed. What killed him? Was it a case of hit-and-run? Why was he not taken to the hospital? Or who killed him? Was he murdered and dumped? Was it a case of ritual killing? Did police try to find out? Was the body simply picked up and buried without the authorities getting to know the story behind the death?
You see, a single dead body on the road says a lot about mangled governance in Nigeria. Any society that we call “developed” in the modern world is one that attaches value to the human life. Some have even gone a step further by taking animal rights seriously, such that an air ambulance can be deployed to rescue a dog in distress. The owner of a cat can go to jail for maltreating the animal. But is it a society where human bodies litter the road and no attempt is made to investigate the circumstances that will suddenly care about the life of a cat? How can I go as far as suggesting that we should care about animal rights when we don’t give a damn about humans? This says a lot about us.
For ages, I have been making the point about poor leadership in different ways. I have argued that it is because our leaders devote more attention to politics and politicking that Nigeria is not making progress. I have posited that if they devote a fraction of their energies to governance, Nigeria would be far better than this. I have also contended time and again that our leaders need to have a development-centred “vision of society” and play “politics of purpose” in order to deliver the goods and take Nigeria from the pit of underdevelopment. I have theorised times without number on how “competent” and “patriotic” leadership is the ultimate solution if we want to dismantle the road blocks on our path to greatness.
I now want to drive home my point by approaching the leadership argument from another angle: the “value of human life” proposition. If the leaders place value on the life of every Nigerian, it will always reflect in their policies and actions. I will break this down in simple sentences. First of all, the emergency services will work. The ambulances and A&E wards will be top-notch. If someone is hit by a vehicle, they will not be allowed to bleed to death. Emergency services will be contacted and they will rush to the scene, apply life-saving first aid and then transport the victim to the A&E of a hospital for further treatment. Everything possible will be done ab initio to save human life.
In Nigeria, if you take an accident victim to a public hospital, you are likely to live to regret it — at least nine out of 10 times. If they will accept the victim at all, you will go through hell because of the formalities. Saving the dying soul is not the priority. A medical student told me of how an accident victim was bleeding to death at the teaching hospital and the first thing the hospital staff were interested in was asking the relatives, or whoever brought him, to pay for registration. After they had filled the documents, the next item on the agenda was if the spellings were correct. The victim was fighting for his life but who cared? By the time they were done with the formalities, the patient was dead.
It is so simple to understand why: we have no value for human life in Nigeria. God save you if it is a bullet-wound victim. While someone’s life is on the line, you will be asked to produce a police report before treatment can be administered. This started under military rule in the 1980s. Police issued an order that before any hospital could treat a bullet-wound victim, there must be a police report to certify that he was not an armed robber hit in an exchange of fire. Even if he were a robber or murderer, the fact is that in a sane society, his life will be saved first so that he could undergo a proper trial. After many had died pointlessly, police withdrew the directive but till today, hospitals still turn back bullet-wound victims.
If the dead man at Charly Boy bus stop were a victim of ritual killing or murder, we would never know. If it was a country that valued human life, it would have been investigated. It wouldn’t matter if he was famous or not. In September 2001, the torso of a five-year-old black boy, named “Boy Adam” by the police, was found in River Thames, London. He was suspected to be a victim of ritual killing. British police spent millions of pounds trying to establish his identity and why he was murdered. His origins were eventually traced to Nigeria and his identity unmasked after many years, although a controversy meant some of the findings were discarded. But you could see the attempt to solve the murder of an unknown entity. That is what it means to value human life.
I will now move to more specifics about how value for human life can impact on the quality of governance. Leaders who appreciate the value of human life would do everything possible to make sure public hospitals are in good shape in all aspects — infrastructure, staffing, medication and care. You know and appreciate what it means for citizens to be healthy, to be productive and to contribute their quota to the economy and the society. You know that health is wealth. You will go to any extent to equip the hospitals, to pay health workers and medical personnel well, and to make sure there is treatment and surgery coverage for the citizens. You will just do it as common sense if you truly have value for human life.
If you really appreciate the value of human life, you will do everything to provide safe water for the citizens. Nigerians are still suffering from water-borne diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and meningitis. Every year, we record outbreaks of water-borne diseases that are killing thousands of poor Nigerians. In 2018, the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) sector report revealed that 60 million Nigerians were without access to basic drinking water. That was slightly below the population of the UK and more than South Africa’s. People drink from unhealthy sources such as streams, ponds and wells and are inevitably prone to sickness. How can sick people be economically productive?
If you really care for human life, you will not joke with providing them with water. It is just natural. In 2022, many governors forked out between N40 million and N100 million to buy presidential nomination forms even when they knew they did not stand any chance. If we estimate the cost of sinking a borehole at N500,000 (it could be cheaper in some places, more expensive in others), N100 million will sink 200 boreholes and banish cholera and several other diseases from many communities. Even if we inflate the cost to N1 million per one, that is 100 boreholes that will save lives. But if you do not value human life, you cannot get my point.
If Nigerian leaders put value on human life, our security agencies will deliver better services. Armed robbery, kidnapping, insurgency and terrorism would have been contained ages ago. But when you steal budgets meant to equip the security agencies or look the other way when the funds are stolen, when you care not about their efficiency and professionalism, when you do not take strict actions on those found wanting, when you downplay competence and do recruitments based on narrow interests, there is no phrase more descriptive of your mentality than “lack of value for human life”. If you prioritise human lives, nobody will need to beg you to do the right thing to improve the security ecosystem.
I could produce a long list of things our leaders do, or fail to do, that point in the direction of a patent lack of value for human life. It is, nonetheless, glaring that they value their own lives. That is why they head straight to foreign hospitals when they need medical treatment, even for common cold. They would never attend public hospitals in Nigeria if they had to receive initial treatment here. They would go to the most expensive private hospitals before being flown abroad. They value their own lives. They will never drink unclean water — they cannot even drink from public tap, much less streams. They feel safe as they are surrounded by legions of security operatives. They manifestly value their own lives.
I am not trying to criticise them for valuing their own lives dearly. I am criticising them for not placing similar value on the lives of the ordinary Nigerians. We need leaders with a different mentality — a mentality that flows from a conscience, a conscience that is built on the value of human life. Why should Nigerians continue to drink from ponds and streams? Why should public hospitals be so inhospitable? Why should emergency services not work? Why should security agencies be so inefficient, leaving ordinary Nigerians highly vulnerable to all forms of insecurity? The day our leaders begin to value the life of a Nigerian, something will change significantly for us and we will rejoice and be glad for it.
*This is a chapter from my debut book, ‘Fellow Nigerians, It’s All Politics’, distributed in Nigeria by Roving Heights and available at leading bookstores nationwide. Also available on Amazon.
AND FOUR OTHER THINGS…
Is there anything that cannot be politicised in Nigeria? The answer is no. A devastating flooding has just killed hundreds of Nigerians and left millions homeless, but it would appear we have managed to turn this whole tragedy into a political game of North vs South yet again. Leader of the Pan Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF), Chief Edwin Clark, has accused the minister of humanitarian affairs, disaster management and social development, Ms Sadiya Umar Farouk, of neglecting affected areas in the south. The minister says Jigawa, which recorded 100 deaths, is the most affected of the lot. Pray, when are we going to start seeing ourselves as human beings first before anything else? Damning.
OBASANJO THE HERO
Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu, the presidential candidate of the All Progressives Congress (APC), and Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, his counterpart in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), are falling over each other to eulogise former President Olusegun Obasanjo for his role in resolving the civil war in Ethiopia. Atiku even wants Obasanjo’s face on the proposed new-look naira notes. Of course, Obasanjo deserves every credit for his international statesmanship and you have to wonder how many African leaders still have this level of goodwill. However, I smell a rat in the outpour of accolades by Tinubu and Atiku. Obasanjo holds both in low esteem and the feeling is mutual. Politics.
The UK on Friday warned its citizens in the US about possible terror attacks. In the travel advisory, the UK said the planned attacks were very likely to be random across the US. A day earlier, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had warned of “credible” threats to synagogues in New Jersey. On the heels of similar warnings issued by the US about possible terror attacks in South Africa and Nigeria, it is safe to conclude that nowhere is really safe in this world. Someone already suggested that World War III will not be territorial as we used to know it but terror attacks not limited to typical boundaries. In that case, vigilance will now be the ultimate weapon for everybody. Terrifying.
My heart goes out to Davido, the Afrobeats star, and Chioma over the death of their son, Ifeanyi, in a domestic swimming pool accident. How do you begin to comfort anyone who has lost a three-old child? A lot of unkind things are being said on social media about the tragic incident but that is what happens when people have more data on their phones than brains in their heads. We still don’t know the circumstances of Ifeanyi’s death but the police said an autopsy has established drowning. I implore the authorities to thoroughly investigate the circumstances. I hope this tragic accident will ginger the authorities to improve safety regulations on private swimming pools. Condolences.